From Diving to Radio, Coding to Farming — Nonprofit Awards $165K in Grants to Local Groups Bringing STEM Education to Underserved Kids

(Black Girls Dive)

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The national nonprofit Society for Science has awarded 38 organizations a portion of $165,000 in funding as part of the group’s latest STEM Action Grant program. The largest single group of beneficiaries in the history of the grant, this year’s list places a distinct focus on local organizations reaching underrepresented and underserved populations in STEM fields.

“We find that organizations are intimately aware of the unique challenges within their own communities,” says Michele Glidden, Society for Science chief program officer. “This is why we believe giving to grass-roots, community-driven organizations is an effective approach to cultivating science literacy and science education.”

The 2021 recipient list, the largest since the program’s 2016 inception, spans 21 states. The winning organizations reach a diversity of demographics, including Black and Latino individuals, neurodiverse students, the hearing and visually impaired, refugees, and rural and low-income students.

Here’s a sampling of these locally minded groups.

Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America, Chicago

Welcoming recently arrived refugees into a brand-new community requires involving them in that community. Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America found that young refugees arriving in the Chicago area struggled in school, and that their parents didn’t know — or know how to find — resources to help them. By partnering with Chicago-based STEAM curriculum provider TinkRworks, the organization provides a K-8 STEM robotics program for students from the Middle East and Africa, giving them the immediate opportunity to engage in math and engineering applications while ensuring they are surrounded by staff and volunteer mentors and tutors.

Be Loud, New Orleans

This student-run, New Orleans-based radio station and digital media production program encourages middle school DJs to write, record and mix their own segments for the Be Loud Radio Hour, which plays on local radio and streams on Soundcloud. The grant will allow a greater reach for the program, helping low-income students get involved in learning about and reporting on issues in their own community. They will also have the opportunity to delve into the technology used in putting together the show.

Black Girls Dive Foundation, Owings Mills, Maryland

Black Girls Dive is far more than an effort to get Black girls into scuba diving. The organization’s STREAMS program offers African-American girls between ages 9 and 17 the chance to explore and learn about conserving the local marine ecosystem. Participants learn to build underwater remote-operated vehicles with video recording capabilities in order to study the biodiversity of the waters off the Maryland coast. And, with their newly acquired diving skills, they can physically explore nearby reefs to complete an ocean science curriculum.

Youth Code Jam, San Antonio

Deaf and blind students attending Texas public schools don’t often have a chance to fully explore computer science. Youth Code Jam, an organization whose events promote coding for students in grades K-12, is using its grant to address this deficit by providing accommodations including closed-captioning, sign language video and Braille, so deaf and blind students can participate.

Venture Outdoors, Pittsburgh

The new grant will expand outdoor STEM and environmental programming at afterschool sites serving low-income youth of color. Already known for supplying yellow kayaks on local rivers and lakes, Venture Outdoors promotes hiking, biking and kayaking; but instead of simply promoting exploration, the organization uses the outdoors as a backdrop to curriculum to teach about nature and practical survival skills. By opening up new programs and curriculum, additional students can gain access not only to an understanding of the environment, but a STEM education along the way.

‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū, Honolulu

Capitalizing on Hawaii’s space science research expertise, ‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū creates a mentoring network of Native Hawaiian space science professionals to help students connect with STEM-related career paths and the unique technology available on the islands. Along with building mentoring connections between staff and students at telescope sites, the program produces and distributes educational videos developed by Native Hawaiian professionals for use as a teaching resource by K-12 science educators throughout the state.

Tech Kids Unlimited, New York City

This organization provides paid internships and work-based learning opportunities in the computer science field to Brooklyn youth with autism spectrum disorder. The Tech Kids Unlimited mission includes closing the opportunity gap for this chronically underemployed group, by giving neurodiverse students entry into computer science through camps and classes, then expanding their skills in technology with real-world experiences.

Rural Resources Farm & Food Education Center, Greeneville, Tennessee

This 15-acre farm in the Appalachian Mountains features a Farm & Food Teen Training Program, a four-year curriculum that demonstrates agronomy and food production, animal science and soil science while giving rural — and typically low-income — participants access to STEM, leadership skills and growing confidence. The connections between youth in the program and staff mentors allow students to explore a variety of career opportunities.

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